If you want to get married in North Carolina, you must first submit an application for a North Carolina marriage license at any register of deeds (ROD) office, which is typically located at the county courthouse.
Note: See a list of NC register of deeds.
The official who will process your application will either be the register of deeds—elected to four-year terms—or one of their appointed deputies or assistants.
Note 1: North Carolina county clerks (a.k.a. clerks to the board) and city/town clerks do not have anything to do with issuing marriage licenses or certificates.
Note 2: An assistant or deputy can abstain from issuing marriage licenses for six months if it violates a sincerely held religious belief.
Hours and expectations
A few things to expect when applying:
- Typical office hours are 8–5pm.
- Turnaround time is about 30 minutes.
- Fridays and the end of the month are busiest.
- Every register of deeds is closed on the weekends.
If you're unable to apply in person and are at least 18 years old, provide the other applicant (your future spouse) with a notarized affidavit application instead.
Attach original identification and proof of a prior marriage ending. If original ID can't be attached, submit notarized copies verifying its authenticity.
A blank affidavit application can be picked up in the register of deeds' office and is virtually identical to the regular application.
Note 1: Only one party to a marriage may apply absentee.
Note 2: Marrying absentee via proxy is not allowed.
Indian nations and tribes
Federally recognized Indian nations or tribes may lawfully issue marriage licenses and solemnize marriages according to their laws and procedures.
If an Indian nation or tribe legally permits its members to obtain a license from a register of deeds, the marriage will be validated according to state law.
Vow renewal or second ceremony
The register of deeds will neither issue nor record a marriage license for a vow renewal or secondary ceremony; such ceremonies have no legal bearing.
North Carolina does not impose residency requirements upon marriage license applicants; you may apply in any county and marry anywhere in the state.
A few universal points before explaining the marriage-related fees:
- Cash is universally accepted.
- Checks and money orders aren't as widely accepted.
- Credit and debit cards—if accepted—may incur a minor surcharge.
The register of deeds charges $60 to issue a marriage license.
|8%||$5||Children's Trust Fund|
|50%||$30||Domestic Violence Center Fund|
|10%||$6||Automation Enhancement and Preservation Fund|
|32%||$19||County general fund|
Note: Your license does not automatically include a certified copy of your marriage certificate; that can be purchased in addition to the license.
Certified copy fee
You can obtain a certified copy of a marriage license (a.k.a. marriage certificate) from the register of deeds or the state's vital records office for $10–24.
|Office||First copy||Additional copy|
|Register of deeds||$10||$10|
|NC vital records office||$24||$15|
Note: Marriage, birth, and death certificates carry the same fee.
Delayed certificate fee
The register of deeds charges $20 to record a delayed marriage certificate, which includes one certified copy.
Document correction fee
The register of deeds charges $10 to correct a marriage record (e.g., application, license, certificate), which includes one certified copy.
Blood tests and premarital physical exams are not required to obtain a marriage license.
The marriage license application will ask you to document the following:
- Name (first, middle, last)
- Last name prior to first marriage, if different
- Birthplace (county and state or country)
- Social security number, if any
- Age and date of birth
- Gender (optional)
- City, town, or location
- Inside city limits (yes/no)
- Address (street and number)
- Parent's information:
- Name at birth
- Address (if living)
- If previously married:
- Last marriage ended by (e.g., divorce, annulment, death)
- Last marriage end date
- Number of "this" marriage (e.g., first, second)
- Race (optional):
- American Indian
- Alaska Native
- Asian Indian
- Other Asian
- Native Hawaiian
- Other Pacific Islander
- Puerto Rican
- Other Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino
- Highest grades completed (elementary, high school, and college)
Note: The regular application and absentee application—for those that can't apply in person—asks all the same questions.
If you're a participant in North Carolina's or another state's address confidentiality program, you may use the substitute address on your authorization card.
Oath and signature
Your signature upon the application—or in some cases the license—swears or affirms that the information you've provided is true and that no legal impediment to your marriage exists (e.g., incestuous marriage, bigamous marriage).
Although state law says nothing about ID, it does allow register of deeds to solicit proof that you're authorized to marry.
Bottom-line, you should bring one of the following types of unexpired ID that contains your name and date of birth:
- Driver's license
- Military identification card
- State-issued identification card
The acceptability of another type of nongovernment-issued photo ID is wholly in the discretion of the register of deeds, who may solicit any evidence deemed necessary.
Social security number
If you have a social security number, you may be asked to show your social security card or another document that contains it, such as a W-2 or paycheck stub.
If you don't have a social security number and are ineligible to obtain one, you'll be asked to submit a statement or affidavit saying so under oath.
A certified copy of your birth certificate may be solicited if you look like a young adult (twentyish); however, it absolutely will be solicited if you're a minor.
Note: Register of deeds is such sticklers for birth certificates because state law allows a parent or guardian to sue for $200 for unlawful licensure of a minor.
In addition to documenting when and how your last marriage ended on the application, you may be asked to show proof—especially if it ended less than one year ago—such as a certified copy of a divorce decree or death certificate.
Although widows and widowers are not typically required to present a death certificate, the register of deeds can still request it.
In North Carolina, the age of majority (a.k.a. legal adulthood) is 18 years old. If you're underage, the remaining bulk of this section discusses how you may legally marry.
Note: Future reference to "parent" also refers to a parent by adoption and reference to "guardian" refers to an individual, agency, or institution having legal custody.
Age 18 and above
If you're at or above the age of 18, you're a legal adult who may marry without parental consent.
Age 16 to 17
If you're 16 or 17 years old, you may marry if any of the following conditions is met:
- Present written consent signed by a legal guardian or parent having joint or shared custody of you.
- Present a certified copy of a certificate of emancipation or a final decree of emancipation.
Age 14 to 15
If you're 14 or 15 years old, you may marry if there's a pregnancy or living child involved and you obtain permission from a North Carolina district court.
When you go to district court:
- File a civil action for $16.
- The court will issue a summons.
- You'll be assigned a guardian ad litem (a.k.a. attorney).
- Give a copy of the summons and complaint to your parents and guardian, if any.
- Recipients of the summons and complaint have 30 days to respond.
- All interested parties may attend the scheduled hearing.
- You're free to represent yourself at the hearing.
- The court will take into consideration:
- Your preparedness for marriage.
- Your parents' or guardian's opinions.
- The appointed guardian ad litem's opinion.
- Your relationship with your parents or guardian.
- Whether you're pregnant or have given birth to a child.
- Any other evidence considered relevant.
If the court finds marriage to be in your best interest, a written order will be issued authorizing your marriage. Bring a certified copy of this order when applying.
If the court rules against you, the ruling cannot be appealed nor can you file another equivalent civil suit in any court until one year after the denial.
Note 1: Pregnancy or parenthood alone does not automatically constitute "best interest" of a minor to marry.
Note 2: If your parent(s) or guardian object to your marriage, it will weigh heavily against your case.
Age 13 and below
If you're 13 years old or younger, you cannot marry under any circumstance.
After you submit your application and pay the fee, you'll immediately be issued a marriage license that's good for 60 days to be filled out and returned by your officiant for recording by the very same register of deeds.
There is no waiting period; your marriage license will be issued immediately.
Your marriage license will expire 60 days after issuance, after which it is void.
North Carolina does not allow marriage-by-proxy; however, it does allow one party to the marriage to apply absentee.
The closest member of your family you are permitted to marry in North Carolina is a first cousin or double first cousin.
Marriage between relatives closer than first cousins is void and classified incestuous, whether related by the whole blood or half blood.
To be clear, you're prohibited from marrying:
- Adopted child
Living husband or wife
You cannot marry if you have a living husband or wife. That's bigamy. If you marry someone who you know has a living spouse, you too would be a bigamist.
Bigamy is a Class I felony to be prosecuted in the county of apprehension. Even if a bigamous marriage took place out-of-state, it's still prosecutable in NC.
Exceptions to bigamy
A bigamy charge may be avoided if the previous spouse had been continuously absent for seven consecutive years immediately prior to the subsequent marriage and they weren't known to be alive.
Note: Unlike some other states, ignorance of the law or falsely thinking your prior marriage was dissolved is not a particularly viable defense against bigamy.
Beyond the prohibition against incestuous and bigamous marriages, a marriage may be annulled with someone lacking mental capacity or is physically impotent.
A minimum of two witnesses must attend your marriage ceremony and subsequently sign your marriage license. The officiant cannot serve as a witness.
Note: A maximum of three witnesses may sign your license.
Your marriage may be solemnized by any of the following individuals or entities:
- Ordained minister of any religious denomination
- Church-authorized minister
- Magistrate (civil and criminal)
- Ceremony of any religious denomination
- Religious society (e.g., Quakers, Baha'i Faith)
- Indian nation or tribe (state or federally recognized)
In reality, state law permits any religious denomination or society to solemnize marriages according to their customs and procedures.
Recusal of magistrates
Magistrates can refrain from solemnizing all marriages for a six-month period due to religious objections. This is typically employed to avoid same-sex marriages.
A magistrate who chooses to abstain from solemnizing one marriage must abstain from all marriages: it's all or nothing.
If every magistrate within a jurisdiction withdraws, a district court judge will be assigned magistrate duties for all couples seeking a civil ceremony.
Hand your unexpired marriage license to the officiant to kick off the ceremony. You're officially married once the officiant declares it so.
Once the ceremony ends, the business of completing the license begins; the officiant must log the date and place of marriage and their name, title, signature, and address.
The officiant is also responsible for directing two or three attending witnesses to sign the license. The officiant does not count as a witness.
The completed license must be returned to the issuing register of deeds for recording no later than 10 days following the ceremony.
Note: If your officiant fails to return your license on time, they'd be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and you can sue them to gain $200.
After your marriage license has been returned to the issuing register of deeds, it will be indexed, with ceremony details recorded, then permanently filed in office.
If your license hasn't been returned for recording, you can request a delayed certificate recording by submitting one of the following:
- Affidavit of at least two ceremony witnesses.
- Officiant's affidavit and a ceremony witness' affidavit.
- You and/or your spouse's affidavit and a ceremony witness' affidavit.
Note: See the delayed certificate fee.
You can obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate from either the register of deeds who issued your license or NC's vital records office.
Note: See the certified copy fee.
Correct a license or certificate
Mistakes on your application, license, or certificate can be amended by submitting a signed affidavit along with affidavits from two people who vouch for the corrections.
Note: See the document correction fee.
Changing your name on record
You can amend your application, license, or certificate to reflect a court-ordered name change with your spouse's consent and without third-party affidavits.
Name change after marriage
Completing a name change because of marriage requires a certified copy of your marriage certificate.
The Social Security Administration, DMV, etc, will permit you to take your spouse's surname or hyphenate. Maiden to middle name changes are also possible.
Locate a register of deeds office
Now that you understand the legal requirements when applying for a marriage license, it's time for you to find your local register of deeds to apply in.